Toronto FC adds Spanish attacking midfielder Victor Vazquez
Spent last year with Mexico's Cruz Azul squad
Toronto FC has acquired the last major piece in its off-season puzzle, signing Spanish veteran Victor Vazquez to add creativity and offence to its midfield.
The 30-year-old Vazquez, named Belgium footballer of the year in 2014-15 with Club Brugge, joined the Barcelona academy at age 10 and worked his way up its youth ranks alongside Lionel Messi. But two knee surgeries and a midfield crammed with stars prevented Vazquez from making his mark in the first team.
He made his senior debut for Barcelona on April 12, 2008, and scored off the bench in a Champions League win over Rubin Kazan in his final Barca appearance on Dec. 7, 2010. There were few chances in between. In all, Vazquez spent five seasons in the reserves.
An attacking midfielder was Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko's major goal since losing in the MLS Cup final to Seattle last December. Fullback/wingback Justin Morrow, with five goals, was the team's leading scorer last season after forward Sebastian Giovinco (17) and Jozy Altidore (10).
Defender Drew Moor, with three goals, was more prolific than TFC's leading midfield scorers — Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado, Tsubasa Endoh and Will Johnson (now with Orlando), who had two goals apiece.
Toronto has been playing a 3-5-2 formation with captain Michael Bradley as a deep-lying midfielder and Morrow and Steven Beitashour bombing up the flanks. That leaves two spots in the midfield to help generate offence.
Panamanian Armando Cooper and Osorio have occupied those roles for the most part. Barring a change in formation or tactics, Vazquez will eat into their minutes. Toronto will look to the Spaniard to help connect its star forwards and to add some offence of his own.
Toronto used targeted allocation money to help fit Vazquez, who spent last season in Mexico with Cruz Azul, under its salary cap.
TFC initially had three midfielders on its shopping list, which was reduced to two after one dropped out. Vazquez is the one that stuck.
According to an ESPN profile, Vazquez had the words "solo el mas fuerte sobrevive" — only the strongest survive — tattooed on his arm as he recovered from his second knee surgery. Vazquez also named his son, born in 2013, Leo, in honour of his friend Messi, according to the same story.
Vazquez eventually found a home in Belgium with Club Brugge, where his resume includes elegant free kick goals and an exquisite chip in a 2014 games against Grasshoppers Zurich. He had 25 goals and 50 assists in five years (173 appearances) with the Belgian club.
After a gala 2014-15 season, he told Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo he was ready for a new challenge.
"I would not mind going out to another continent, though, and to try a more risky venture," he said.